wednesday | 24 april 2013

POLICY

SOME GOOD THINGS THAT GEORGE W. BUSH DID

Matthew Yglesias | Slate

With George W. Bush’s presidential library opening, conservatives are finally able to come out of the closet and admit they love the guy and think he was a good president rather than continuing with this embarassing five-year farce of pretending they don’t even remember who he was. Since I’m a fan of positivity, I thought I would chime in with my take on the positive aspects of the Bush presidency that often get overlooked.

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ECONOMICS

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EMPIRICAL METHODS AND PROGRESS IN ECONOMICS

Mark Thoma | Economist’s View

. . . when I was a new assistant professor Milton Friedman presented some work at a conference that impressed me quite a bit. He resurrected a theoretical paper he had written 25 years earlier (it was his plucking model of aggregate fluctuations), and tested it against the data that had accumulated in the time since he had published his work. It’s not really fair to test a theory against historical macroeconomic data, we all know what the data say and it would be foolish to build a model that is inconsistent with the historical data it was built to explain – of course the model will fit the data, who would be impressed by that? But a test against data that the investigator could not have known about when the theory was formulated is a different story – those tests are meaningful (Friedman’s model passed the test using only the newer data).

. . . By today, I thought, I would have almost double the data I had back then and that would improve the precision of tests quite a bit. I could also do what Friedman did, take really important older papers that give us results “everyone knows” and see if they hold up when tested against newer data.

It didn’t work out that way. There was a big change in the Fed’s operating procedure in the early 1980s, and because of this structural break today 1984 is a common starting point for empirical investigations (start dates can be anywhere in the 79-84 range though later dates are more common). Data before this time-period are discarded.

So, here we are 25 years or so later and macroeconomists don’t have any more data at our disposal than we did when I was in graduate school.

AUSTERITY LOSES AN ARTICLE OF FAITH

Martin Wolf | The Financial Times

In 1816, the net public debt of the UK reached 240 per cent of gross domestic product. This was the fiscal legacy of 125 years of war against France. What economic disaster followed this crushing burden of debt? The industrial revolution.

. . . As Mark Blyth of Brown University notes in a splendid new book, great economists of the 18th century, such as David Hume and Adam Smith warned against excessive public debt. Embroiled in frequent wars, the British state ignored them. Yet the warnings must have appeared all too credible. Between 1815 and 1855, for example, debt interest accounted for close to half of all UK public spending.

Nevertheless, the UK grew out of its debt. By the early 1860s, debt had already fallen below 90 per cent of GDP. According to the late Angus Maddison, the economic historian, the compound growth rate of the economy from 1820 to the early 1860s was 2 per cent a year. The rise in GDP per head was 1.2 per cent. By subsequent standards, this may not sound very much. Yet this occurred despite the colossal debt burden in a country with a very limited tax-raising capacity. Moreover, that debt was not accumulated for productive purposes. It was used to fund the most destructive of activities: war. Quite simply, there is no iron law that growth must collapse after debt exceeds 90 per cent of GDP.

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MEMOIR | RUSSIA

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A DINNER IN MOSCOW

Jonathan Wilson | Paris Review

Several guests arrived; a samovar appeared on the table. The atmosphere was convivial, with smoking and laughter, but the conversation was exclusively in Russian and I was a silent observer. Eventually one of the guests turned to me and asked in English who I preferred, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, and when I replied “Dostoyevsky” he said “Are you Jewish?” as if my answer had somehow predetermined that possibility. He went on to inform me that many Russian Orthodox priests in the city were in fact converted Jews, severely restricted in the practice of their first religion and searching for a spiritual outlet.

“The priests are rabbis,” he said. Later in the evening the same guest whispered to me, “This country is shit.”

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GAME THEORY | LITERATURE

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GAME THEORY: JANE AUSTEN HAD IT FIRST

Jennifer Schuessler | The New York Times

It’s not every day that someone stumbles upon a major new strategic thinker during family movie night. But that’s what happened to Michael Chwe, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he sat down with his children some eight years ago to watch “Clueless,” the 1995 romantic comedy based on Jane Austen’s “Emma.”

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BOOKS

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AWFUL LIBRARY BOOKS

OBlog | Design Observer

Awful Library Books is a collection of amusing and/or questionable library holdings found in real libraries and curated by librarians Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner. Today’s post is the book New York Confidential: The Big City After Dark (Lait and Mortimer, 1948), contains such advice as:

Smart Gotham gals don’t keep diaries. If what does into ’em is unimportant, why bother? If it’s secret stuff, never put it in writing.
Do NOT walk in Central Park or other parks AFTER DARK, even if escorted.

Do not use cheap perfume when night clubbing (or any other time).

Gals who pass out after five (or 55) drinks should wear identification bracelets with name and address — especially when on a first date with a gent who may not know where to deliver the body.

37831-NYC-confidential-677x1024_525

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VENEZUELA

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WRITING ABOUT CHÁVEZ

Jon Lee Anderson | The New Yorker
[Ed. This post is a response to criticisms that we included in a previous edition of the Reader]

I’ve received a number of questions about my recent writing on Venezuela, which I’d like to address here.

At issue are sentences in three different pieces written in the course of a number of months—two on The New Yorker’s Web site and one in the magazine. Readers pointed out what they saw as factual errors in each. In two cases I agreed, and corrected the sentences; in the third I didn’t, for reasons I’ll explain. And there is a larger issue: some have cited these sentences as evidence of bad will on my part (and The New Yorker’s)—of a politicized bias against Hugo Chávez.

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RACE | SWEDEN

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AN OPEN LETTER TO BEATRICE ASK

Jonas Hassen Khemiri | Asymptote

In 2009, the Swedish government, along with law enforcement and the Swedish Migration Board, implemented Project REVA, a program meant to expedite cases dealing with people who are in Sweden illegally. This program has only recently been implemented in Stockholm, where police have begun to check IDs of anyone who they suspect doesn’t have proper papers. Despite the fact that police are not to ask for ID solely on the basis of appearance, many say they have been questioned because they don’t “look Swedish,” raising concerns that police are practicing racial profiling in an attempt to increase deportations.

Not surprisingly, this created an uproar, but when Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask was asked in a radio interview whether she was concerned by this apparent profiling, she brushed off any concerns, saying that what people thought was racial profiling was just a matter of “personal experience,” and she indicated that she does not intend to take any specific measures to address the matter.

The writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri wrote the open letter below in response to Ask’s comments. It ran in the Stockholm paper Dagens Nyheter on March 13, 2013. By the end of that day it had broken the record for the most-shared DN.se article on social media. According to a DN article about the story, it was shared on Twitter enough times to theoretically have reached every Swede with a Twitter account. It is now the most linked text in Swedish history.

—Rachel Willson-Broyles

Dear Beatrice Ask,

There are a lot of things that make us different. You were born in the mid-fifties; I was born in the late seventies. You are a woman; I’m a man. You’re a politician; I’m an author. But there are some things we have in common. We’ve both studied international economics (without graduating). We have almost the same hairstyle (even if our hair color is different).

And we’re both full citizens of this country, born within its borders, joined by language, flag, history, infrastructure. We are both equal before the Law.

So I was surprised last Thursday when the radio program P1 Morgon asked you whether, as the Minister of Justice, you are concerned that people (citizens, taxpayers, voters) claim they have been stopped by the police and asked for ID solely because of their (dark, non-blond, black-haired) appearances. And you answered:

“One’s experience of ‘why someone has questioned me’ can of course be very personal. There are some who have been previously convicted and feel that they are always being questioned, even though you can’t tell by looking at a person that they have committed a crime […] In order to judge whether the police are acting in accordance with laws and rules, one has to look at the big picture.”

Interesting choice of words: “previously convicted.” Because that’s exactly what we are. All of us who are guilty until we prove otherwise. When does a personal experience become a structure of racism? When does it become discrimination, oppression, violence? And how can looking at “the big picture” rule out so many personal experiences of citizens?

I am writing to you with a simple request, Beatrice Ask. I want us to trade our skins and our experiences. Come on. Let’s just do it. . .

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CRAFT | DESIGN

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SHAKE HANDS WITH FRANCIS AT THE MAKER FAIRE

Karen Tannenbaum | Make

Brian describes himself as “a builder who aspires to create challenging mechanical contraptions whose mystery of operation lies in complexity and whimsy…once someone called me a ‘Gadgeteer’”. He doesn’t usually label himself as an engineer, since he feels there is “a mystique to an engineering degree that doesn’t support an environment where everyone can build whatever they can dream up, with an adequate quantity of scars to prove it.”

flappingsprocket1

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ARCHITECTURE

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A TREEHOUSE INSPIRED PLAYGROUND GROWS IN BROOKLYN

James Bartolacci | Architizer

Tuesday morning in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NYC Parks Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey, Marc Hacker of Rockwell Group, and City Council Member Darlene Mealy joined neighborhood children to unveil the design for the new Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park. While this may sound like the standard procedure for a new neighborhood recreation area, the event was anything but typical. The Rockwell Group showcased its model for a revolutionary vision in playground design: one that encourages child-directed, unstructured free play. And from the sounds of loud, excited cheers in the front row, we think the kids loved it!

Imagination-Playground-at-Betsy-Head-600x400

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MEDICINE

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INFOGRAPHIC: WHICH FLU STRAIN IS MOST LIKELY TO BRING THE APOCOLYPSE?

Mark Wilson | Co.Design

H1N1. H7N9. Bird flu. Swine flu. We get it already, some virus is evolving to murder us all…but which one is it this week?

Enter David McCandless, the info-design guru behind Information Is Beautiful. He built Influ-Venn-Za as a straightforward explanation of which strains of flu exist in which animals, simplifying “who can catch what?”

influ-venn-za5

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FILM

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MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS

Paul Schrader | Hulu
[Ed. This week, The Criterion Collection is highlighting 5 films with brilliant set design. Free access expires in 4 days]

Taking place on Mishima’s last day, when he famously committed public seppuku, the film is punctuated by extended flashbacks to the writer’s life as well as by gloriously stylized evocations of his fictional works.


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MUSIC

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BINARY: G.O.D.

Tom Bunker & Nicos Livesey | Vimeo

TEN YEARS IN THE DIGITAL ETHER

WAS ITUNES A STOP GAP IN THE MUSIC-CONSUMPTION REVOLUTION?
Steven Hyden | Grantland

If you love your local record store, you definitely need to be patronizing it more than once per year, because a small but loyal battery of shoppers with money to burn on Johnny Marr 7-inches won’t be enough to stave off the rapid deterioration of its product base. But before you grab a pitchfork and shake it at the evil specter of Apple, remember that downloads may soon be as antiquated as CDs. Sift through the rosy statistics for digital sales and a less promising reality emerges: The gains made by downloads are sluggish compared with the exploding reach of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, which saw a 59 percent increase in revenues last year thanks to listeners willing to pay a nominal subscription fee (or sit through ads) in exchange for access to libraries with many more songs than they could ever purchase. And there’s no sign that this trend has any hope of reversing course. Incredibly, from a customer loyalty standpoint, your neighborhood vinyl hut might have a better long-term prognosis than iTunes.

TALKING WITH RICKIE LEE JONES

Ben Greenman | The Culture Desk | The New Yorker | amazon

“The Devil You Know” . . . returns her to interpretive territory, with a set of intimate, sometimes stark, versions of songs that she loves—and, consequently, that she loves to sing. The album kicks off with Jones’s take on the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and moves through Van Morrison’s “Comfort You” and Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” Rod Stewart’s “Seems Like a Long Time” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe.”

You’ve come back to these interpretive projects throughout your career. Are they all motivated by the same impulse, or do you think of them each very differently?

They are part of the same overall project. When my career started in 1979, the division between singer-songwriter-dom and singer-dom was a wide abyss, and singer-songwriters were not allowed to cover songs. Before I got signed, when I played live, I would do some of my own songs and also songs that I loved, like “Makin’ Whoopee” and “My Funny Valentine.” All those songs, the originals and the others, were part of me. And I got lots of flak. I’m not sure why, exactly, but there was a strong belief that singers should only sing their own songs.

Why do you think that was?

Singing other people’s material was perceived, I think, as a weakness of my persona. The effect, though, was to make me dig my heels in and try even harder to combine the two. There was a moment when I was doing jazz, with “Something Cool,” from “Girl At Her Volcano.” But I didn’t follow up on it right away. I went back and recorded originals, other albums. Then Linda Ronstadt released those records arranged by Nelson Riddle. So, when I decided to return to it, I was talking it over with David Was, who was my producer, and I wanted to do a guitar-based record. He suggested the bandoneón, which is how that record, “Pop Pop,” ended up with this Left Bank, café sound. I thought if I did a piano record it would bury me. It almost buried me anyway. The L.A. Times did a review with two journalists on the same page, a pop writer and a jazz writer, and the jazz writer tore me apart. What was happening? Was I being punished?


devil you know

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